WHEN one sleeps for two long, chances are that an enemy might wake the person up. If you are not woken up by the urge to urinate, it might be to defecate, or a noise of fire outbreak in one corner of the house. No method of waking up a late riser is pleasant. Those who wake up early leave home early.
The labour movement went into sleep in the days of Comrade Abdulwahed Ibrahim Umar, and under Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the movement progressed into deep sleep and was snoring so loud that everyone was aware of its slumber. Under Comrade Joe Ajaero, we were becoming apprehensive that the malaise might continue until Hope Uzodinma rescued us.
I have been a strong critic of docile and lacklustre performance of contemporary Nigerian Labour Movement for some time now and I owe nobody any apology. We can’t all become conformists.
Wabba took labour to its lowest point. Under him, NLC became the militant wing of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He never saw any reason to challenge the many anomalies of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. He was ready to help Buhari fight opposition politicians. He was quick to rush to River State to engage Nyesom Wike on issues that were not as grievous as the many challenges posed by Buhari’s misgovernance and ineptitude. Even at that, Wike, then governor of Rivers State in his height of power hallucination, did not unleash thugs on him. He brokered a truce with the Congress. Today the party NLC served for eight years has turned its arsenal on the Congress.
Like we use to say in Christendom that if the devil had known that killing Jesus Christ will lead to the fulfilment of the will of God in redemption of man, he would probably have left Jesus alone. I condemn in very strong terms the attack on the Congress president. Such animalistic behaviour cannot be accepted in a democracy. However, I also believe that if Hope Uzodinma had known that beating the Congress president and his entourage will wake up NLC from a protracted reverie, he would have thought of a better method.
An alive and conscious labour movement is not good for a government that lacks direction. An active and functional NLC is a nightmare for a government that has to fight all the time to protect its controversial legitimacy.
NLC didn’t get to where it is today overnight. It took quite a while. At first, there was a well-calculated scheme that saw to the serial elimination of all progressive socialist elements from the system. So many of them were ingloriously eased out of the system. As a result, the generational, people-centric and socialist disposition of protecting the interests of workers and strongly advocating for living wages and general citizens’ welfare was completely lost.
Even from the days of maverick and loquacious Adams Oshiomhole, NLC was already suffering from serious ideological malnutrition. For people operating within the labour circle, the dimming relevance of NLC has been on for a long time. With the exit of the pure breed progressives, the system was taken over by the ambitious politician who want to use the NLC as a springboard to lunch into the dip of the corrupt political system.
It was rumoured that Comrade Wabba was also nursing the ambition of contesting for governorship in his state, Borno. The belief is that if Oshiomhole could do it, any other person can as well do it. The current General Secretary of the NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja, once contested elections for the House of Representatives in his home state, Abia. The fact is that people we have left in NLC are politicians masquerading as unionists. No masquerade can dance for too long because it can be suffocated by the mask. NLC, before the Imo State baptism of beating, cannot dance for too long.
The central labour organisation has watched leadership of affiliate unions decapitate the basic tenets of trade unionism. In most cases, the leadership of NLC aided and abetted the illegalities. There are internal crises everywhere in NLC’s affiliate unions and one wonders how a labour centre that is not able to put its house in order, can fight for the working masses. In most affiliate unions, there are no checks and balances. The roles of General Secretaries have been usurped by elected presidents, who now operate like emperors. Monthly checkoff dues from members are squandered on a monthly basis and at the end of the year cooked up financial statements are sent to the ministry with fat brown envelopes.
The ongoing crisis in the National Union of Food Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), is a classic example. Comrade Idowu Oyelekan, served three consecutive terms of four years each as president. He still had the effrontery to unilaterally extend his tenure for another two years from December 2020, with Comrade Wabba, then NLC president, in attendance at the illegal midnight emergence.
It was in February 2023 that Oyelekan organised a kangaroo conference where he planted his stooges. For several months since his kangaroo conference, he is still running the union with members of his family. It took the intervention of a few reasonable people in the labour circle for him to finally hand over, but even at that, he is still calling the shots under an alien office called Managing Director of the union’s investments. Despite this criminal and illegal usurpation of the workers assets, he is asking for a humongous amount of money as severance package.
Cases like the above are replete in many affiliate unions. NLC must therefore put its house in order. For democracy to work effectively, active opposition, independent judiciary and vibrant trade unionism must be alive to their responsibilities. But today, there is total absence of contrary views within our trade unions, because the known ideological trajectories within the movement have become blurred. This is also the case in most areas of our political economy, with the exception of religion.
The NLC is still very important, and needs to be revived; it is the last hope of the Nigeria masses. A docile, conformist and frightened NLC spells doom for all of us. The ugly message the state passed to Nigerians through the manhandling of Comrade Ajaero is clear. If a man of Ajaero’s stature can be so dehumanised, then ordinary Nigerians are like sachets of water in the hands of government. We can be burst at any time without any hue. I sympathise with Ajaero and entire Nigeria’s working masses, because in Ajaero we were all brutalised and I hope that by his stripes we have been healed.
Comrade Amechi, a trade unionist and pro-democracy activist, writes from Lagos.